After years spent in the protective chrysalis of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly may get what’s coming to him. The turgid host of The O’Reilly Factor has been accused of sexually harassing multiple women over the course of his lucrative career, all of whom have been paid millions to keep quiet by either the network or O’Reilly himself. [UPDATE: FOX announced on Wednesday afternoon that he would not be returning.]
That hush money, though, was not enough to stymie an investigation by the New York Times earlier this month, which revealed that Rupert Murdoch’s company paid at least five women a total of $13 million to keep from going public with the accusations against O’Reilly. The news provoked advertisers to flee in droves, and O’Reilly promptly departed for “a pre-planned vacation.” Yesterday, a group of protesters, organized by the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, set up shop outside of News Corp’s midtown headquarters to ensure that O’Reilly’s vacation from the network is made permanent. (They might get their wish — there are reports that Murdoch will be announcing O’Reilly’s firing imminently.)
Almost immediately, the protest morphed into a tidy metaphor for the state of the country generally. A few minutes before the 1:30 p.m. start time, an altercation broke out between one of the organizers and the building’s head of security, a beefy man with a neck like a log of Taylor ham. The event, organizer Anika Collier Navaroli told me later, had originally been slated to take place in the large square in front of the News Corp building — space they were informed only shortly beforehand was private property. The protesters moved to the other side of a row of heavy potted plants, but perhaps not fast enough for the guard, who Navaroli said put his hand on her back.
“As we’re protesting the sexual assault of people who were touched without their consent by men within Fox, [the guard] proceeded to touch my female body without my consent while I’m standing on public property,” Navaroli, who is with the group Color of Change, told the Voice. “This is the exact reason we are out here.”
Pressure on Fox to fire O’Reilly has been mounting daily since the the Times’ report was released at the beginning of the month. In addition to the five women originally named in the story, the Hollywood Reporter reported on Tuesday that O’Reilly also allegedly harassed a black woman who worked near his office, referring to her as “hot chocolate.”
“He would never talk to her, not even hello, except to grunt at her like a wild boar,” the woman’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, told the outlet. “He would leer at her. He would always do this when no one else was around and she was scared.”
It’s precisely this culture of fear and intimidation that not just Fox but workplaces around the country must no longer tolerate, said Public Advocate Tish James. Standing in front of a pile of cardboard boxes containing 480,000 signatures calling for O’Reilly’s dismissal (“Fire the sexual predator,” read one in blue puff paint), James told the crowd that “Fox News needs to do more than just put Bill O’Reilly on vacation.”
“We’ve got to say it loud and clear that this good old boy culture that exists in this corporation is unacceptable,” she said. “It’s unacceptable that a known sexual harasser has his own show and the unwavering support of a network.”
James announced again that she is urging the New York City Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, to launch investigations into the network’s practices. The former, she said, needs to look into the sexual harassment and racial discrimination charges against Fox News. As for the SEC, James reiterated that she wants the agency to investigate whether the corporation has improperly classified settlement payouts as salary.
The restrictions placed on the protesters by the building’s security forced the roughly two dozen demonstrators to compact themselves along the sidewalk, with one very vigilant police officer regularly interrupting speeches and chants to loudly order the crowd to “step in, please.” But attention was quickly siphoned from the speeches once again with the arrival of Auri Ambalu, a jewelry wholesaler from Queens eager to make everyone present understand that what they were doing in front of News Corp was a waste of time.
“There’s a lot of things in this world that are problems,” he shouted. “You have to accept some things in life. That’s how it works.”
“If I grabbed you by the balls, would you want to accept that?” asked one protester, a woman in perhaps her late sixties.
“Grab me by the balls!” Ambalu proclaimed. “Grab me by the balls and see what happens.” (She declined his offer.)
“You have to accept certain things the way they are, and that’s the way it is,” he went on. “I wish we could stop everything. I wish we lived in that magical world.” His message delivered, Ambalu eventually continued down the street.
Once all the speakers were finished, organizers led a procession through the forbidden square to deliver the petitions. Leftover protesters and reporters instantly swelled onto the sidewalk, the same one the police had moments before loudly insisted be kept clear.
The officer let out a loud sigh. “Oh man,” he said, before giving up and walking away.